A new legislative session in the Legislature typically kicks off with a string of votes setting the rules for the following two years.
But this year, before taking up the rules (or even finalizing offices and committee assignments), the House and Senate voted to raise the salaries and stipends for ranking legislative officers (such as Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, among others), state constitutional officers (Governor Charlie Baker, AG Maura Healey, etc.), and judges.
And then the Thursday before last, both chambers easily overrode Governor Baker's veto, with dissent coming from Republicans, a handful of conservative Democrats, and a trio of progressive Democrats (Jon Hecht of Watertown, Denise Provost of Somerville, and Mike Connolly of Cambridge).
Let's be clear: paying public servants well is important to good governance.
If such offices are not well-compensated, then only those who are already well-off will be interested in running or serving.
And sufficient compensation can also reduce the need for legislators to have jobs on the side, a Pandora’s box of ethics conflicts.
Nonetheless, given the details and the context of the pay raise, it should be no surprise that it has rubbed many progressive voters the wrong way.
First of all, the bill was rushed through at the start of the session without the deliberation and public input that a democratic process necessitates. The numbers in the bill did not come out of thin air—they stem from a 2014 Advisory Commission. But the report has sat largely dormant since then. A report is no substitute for public hearings and debate.
But, more importantly, the whole episode reflects poorly on the Legislature’s priorities.
Although some Democratic legislators have spoken out against Governor Baker's recent $98 million 9C cuts, they have acquiesced to a framework of austerity year after year for the state budget, averse to raising new revenue and content to underinvest in our public infrastructure, from transit and schools.
Funding the pay raise will require either new revenue or new cuts, and Beacon Hill always seems to prefer the latter.
Moreover, despite Democrats' overwhelmingly large veto-proof majorities in both houses, Leadership (as well as many in the rank-and-file) has adopted a chummy and non-confrontational relationship with Governor Baker. They rarely send bills to his desk that they expect him to veto. This one is a notable profile in courage...for legislator raises.
It is true that during budget season, Democrats will override line item vetoes (particularly on earmarks), but, overall, the Legislature is advancing a bold and comprehensive progressive agenda—in rhetoric or action--regardless of the affable Governor's disposition.
The pay raise now is a done deal. We do not subscribe to a conservative frame of starving the beast and drowning governments in bathtubs. But there's a reason why their actions feel out of touch.
So here's a challenge to those on Beacon Hill:
If you are willing to override Governor Baker’s veto to give yourselves a raise, then do the same to give workers across the Commonwealth a raise by passing a $15 minimum wage.
If you are willing to override Governor Baker’s veto to give yourselves greater stipends, then do so as well to guarantee workers across the state a necessary benefit like paid family and medical leave.
And if you are willing to override Governor Baker’s veto to invest more in yourselves, then do so to invest in the Commonwealth.
NEXT STEPS / WHAT YOU CAN DO:.Contact your legislators to encourage them to commit to an agenda of shared prosperity and passing the $15 minimum wage.
- We've made it easy, at this link--but also--
- --take that conversation to the next community event where your Rep is shaking hands over Danishes and Dunkies.
Don't worry--even if you don't see your legislators except on St. Patrick's day or the 4th of July parade. This issue keeps, until the day you hear we've passed a living wage.
Familiarize yourself with the Massachusetts context for talk of "cuts" and "belt-tightening"--and why it only serves the interests and narrative of the 1%.
- We are not broke; rather, some aren't paying their fair share.
- That didn't happen by accident but by deliberate decisions by the legislature and voters, which have passed paying for millionaires' lower tax rates to everybody else--with service cuts, underfunding, and a cynical culture of communities begging for crumbs.
- Read up--take a deep dive starting here, "It's always been a revenue problem"
- ...or browse our blog for many posts on the need to #InvestinMA, austerity, tax cuts, unfair taxation, crumbling services and communities..
...We have been talking about these problems of under-investment and austerity for years now.
We are working to repair the damage (see: the Raise Up MA Fair Share Amendment, a.k.a., the millionaire's tax).
We have it in our power to insist on changes that are good for ALL of us, not just those with seats of power and privilege.
If you are new to these issues--
Stay tuned for more on the Fight for 15, other items on our Shared Prosperity legislative agenda, and the Fair Share Amendment/millionaire's tax.
If you've been with us on this long campaign to invest in our communities and fight inequality, thank you, and with your help, we can win.
These problems didn't appear overnight, and it will take a sustained fight to fix it. Thank you for being with us in the fight for justice and shared prosperity for all.
Already there? Take it to the next level: organize a chapter in your community.